What People Think

One of our customers, I’ll call him Mark, aggressively insisted that we give him free car washes, even after we discontinued the program. When he purchased a new vehicle today, we asked him if he wanted to include a maintenance plan. He declined, stating that he doesn’t do his service with us, he just takes the free washes.

I would be mortified to demand such special privileges, especially if my loyalty to the company was mediocre. Unlike Mark, I have an acute awareness of what other people might think about me. Mark is more worried about getting a deal for himself; I am more concerned with doing the right thing for the relationship. If it occurs to him that we might be expressing our disappointment after he leaves, it certainly doesn’t seem to matter. I, on the other hand, am so sensitive to what people might say when I walk away, that I have a lifetime of unnecessary purchases to show for it.

People always tell you that you shouldn’t care what others think about you, and for certain circumstances, that is absolutely true. You have to be authentic and let the chips fall where they may when you are following your heart. Yet, when I look back on the significant successes of my life, I realize that they were strongly driven by the opposite motivation. The truly cool things about me grew out of a carefully cultivated garden called What People Think. Marketing people might call it building your personal brand, others might label it nurturing your reputation. Brought down to the lowest denominator, you might even call it good ole fashioned giving a shit. Whatever you call it, it is a skill like any other, and it includes knowing when to put it into play.

Twenty years ago, I suffered from many of the common maladies of youth: procrastination, laziness, selfishness, sloppiness. My main priority was my appearance. I spent an obscene amount of time on my hair and makeup, and fished for compliments in the same way a flower leans toward the sun to maximize exposure to light. I wanted to be the nice person who was also attractive. That was about the extent of my garden. What people thought about my looks was such a big deal, that even if I was exhausted or broke, I would find a way to make sure I was polished and shiny when the moment called for it.

Over time, I starting caring about other aspects of my brand, as well. Worrying about what my co-workers would say inspired me to be punctual, work hard and not take the last cupcake. Concern for what the server would think pushed me to be a heavy tipper and not send anything back. Caring about my friends meant showing an interest in their hobbies and listening more than talking. Awareness of the people around me precluded me from overindulging in cocktails. Wanting Kevin to think of me as a good spouse inspired me to be neat and organized around the house.

As I get older, I care much less about appearance-related opinions and much more about ones pertaining to my character. I think about my legacy and the kinds of things I would want to be known for after I am gone. If descriptors such as hardworking, kind and thoughtful are batted around at my funeral, I will be happy with that. Over time, the motivation of caring about the opinions of others has evolved into caring about people in general. Recently I embraced a personal mission statement that simply states -Be a blessing to someone today. I still care what they think about me, but more than that, I care how they feel. Now that is a garden worth nurturing.

Meditative Minimalism

I feel like I need a name for the Angie version of Minimalism, something that conveys my aspirations for all this simplifying activity. Joshua Fields Millstone and Ryan Nicodemus from Minimalist website have an ideal that is impressive, and I know that my ultimate spin on it will look like quite different. I admit that I am envious when I see images of the pristine JFM apartment with the brick walls, a lone piece of art above a simple quality chair. He has an immaculate closet with five identical white shirts hanging ready and 2 white candles on the desk with 5 select books stacked neatly nearby. The Angie version, of course, has to accomodate for my hobbies, passions, spouse and idiocyncracies. As JFM said, they are offering Minimalism up as a recipe for others to consider; their goal is to show people ingredients which might add value to their own life. That is where I am right now, playing with ingredients, seeking my own version of the recipe.

I’m not sure how close I am to the national average of 300,000 items in the home. On the one hand, I already had a habit of keeping a box of items to go to Goodwill near the door at all times, so that the amount of stuff coming in at least matched the amount of stuff leaving. When I look at my tidy decor, I tend to think I had a bit of a minimalist aesthetic already working, but when I look at my closets and garage, I know there is plenty of opportunity for aggressive purging. Instead of counting items in the home, I instead will measure my progress by number of trips to Goodwill and boxes to Lisa for eBay, as well as number of empty shelves and drawers.

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In the past this bare mantle would bother me until I filled it with decor. Now it makes me happy.

 

So far in 2017, I have filled an entire car for Goodwill and have 5 bags ready for my next trip. I have packed 3 boxes of nicer items for Lisa to sell, with a fourth box started. Yesterday I took pictures of old plaques and awards, casually tossing them in the trash or donating the frames from the certificates after posting the photos on my Facebook page. I kept 2 Leadership Augusta keepsakes, one for graduating the program and one for serving as Board Chair. I also kept the Girl Scouts Women of Distinction clock. Those are big deals to me. Today I plan to play a game with Kevin called 1 in 10, where I present him with 10 objects I suspect he wants to keep, and ask him which one I can give away. I’m hopeful for some baby steps but do not expect him to embrace my same level of streamlining.

So far the process has been easy and fun, and serves as part of a larger plan for mine and Kev’s future. I feel an enhanced appreciation for the items which have thus far made the cut and remain in place, and a sense of purpose for my activity. In the past, my constant rearranging of stuff had a little bit of senselessness to it, a busy work or excuse to clean around things. Now I am motivated to reach a place of calmness and an aspiration to focus on more important uses of my energy.

I started reading “Everything That Remains”, which is as awesome as I knew it would be, based on the blog content from the website. It is personal, relatable and inspiring. From it, my biggest take-away so far is the warning to always remember the “Why” behind the purging. It is much like going on a healthy diet with the intention of truly changing one’s life with better choices, so that old ways don’t creep in down the road. There is a need for thoughtfulness in my decisions and consciousness of why I allowed myself to purchase so many superfluous items in the first place.

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love this book!

I’ve read of people of who purged most of their excess material goods within a year and others who have taken a decade to gradually reach their goals. I hope to land somewhere in between. Paying off debt, making better purchase decisions, eating more thoughtfully and living more in the moment are certainly part of the Minimalist mindset which I am excited to embrace, but which will take time to form as habits. For the present time, I am happy to have a plan which helps me to feel less like a hamster stuck on the wheel of crazy work hours and impossible visions for my oversized home. Finding the right balance has helped me to enjoy my job more, where I also have done some reducing, and appreciate the non-material aspects of my life more, like family, friends, reading.

 

While this progress report is helpful, I’m still left without a name. For now, because I’m focused on thoughtful balance, I’ll call it meditative minimalism, so that I am encouraged to slow down and really think through the meaning of physical stuff, including items that I own, as well as those that I feel the urge to purchase. I have no doubt that this lifestyle will translate into less stress and more gratitude, and look forward to sharing more updates in the future.

Minimalist Wannabe

Like most Americans, I tend to shop or eat when I am blue. I realize that I have too many blessings to give in to melancholy-based habits with any regularity, but I confess that I have indulged enough to proclaim the unoriginal and ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions: lose weight and spend less. I would like to add two more resolutions which are extremely compatible with these goals: own less and simplify.

These last two objectives surfaced after watching a Netflix documentary about the Minimalists. Minimalist documentary Seeing this film about Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus at the start of a new year is fortuitous, because they offer such a compelling message about how our addiction to possessions creates more stress than happiness. Thus my newfound and overwhelming need to participate in some major purging. Keep life simple, baby, I say to myself, and appreciate each moment instead of trying to fill your sadness with a swiss cake roll and a new piece of art.

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BT supports my decision, as long as I don’t force her to donate any cat toys

 

I neither want nor expect to reach the level of extreme extrication that Joshua and Ryan accomplished. I read somewhere that Joshua sliced 90% of his material possessions over 8 months. Seeing Joshua’s lone folding chair in an empty living room takes care of most of that temptation. Hearing that he only owns one pair of jeans kills the rest. (Those poor jeans will surely wear out from being washed every night?) Overall, however, the concept resonates with me, because I get a small high from donating superfluous items in my life, and I understand the Feng Shui behind less clutter. So that amazing feeling, augmented with the knowledge gained from the documentary, and I’m a madwoman on a different kind of binge-purge.

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One of my newly stripped closets. Don’t be too impressed, however. There are 6 closets in my house.

 

A couple of things will keep me in check, most of them centered around the fact that I am married to someone who is a keeper in more ways than one. Not only do I want to keep him, he wants to keep his stuff, and he has a lot of it. His reluctance to let go of material possessions is not an issue for our marraige, because we are 2 people in a 2,100 square foot house. The house itself is quite tidy, and as proof, I offer this question posed by Kevin’s home health nurse after his hip-replacement: “So, who’s the neat freak?” As someone who lived single and sloppy for most of her adult life,  this inquiry made me extremely happy.

So Kevin’s stuff is safe from my new proclivity (mostly!) and I have been happily filling bags and boxes to donate. Items which seem too nice to take to Goodwill get shipped to my sister Lisa in Colorado, who has a little Ebay business. I’m on my second box of unwanted goodies for her consideration. She is instructed to keep or sell or donate at her discretion, and she sends me a report of how much she earns from my life’s leftovers, which is fun to read. She keeps the profits (since she does all the work) and I get the joy of knowing that someone in another country is really enjoying my 10 year old silk scarf. Other popular items, many of which ironically are sold to people back here in Augusta, Georgia, include books I know I will not read more than once, and dress up jewelry from last year’s Christmas party.

I often get carried away with whatever my current hobby might be, so there is no telling how far I will travel down the Minimalist road. My last wild hair was a Pinterest-inspired obsession with gift-wrapping, a creative outlet I enjoyed over the holiday. Since I have an entire room filled with gift-wrap supplies, this new hobby is a bit at odds with the minimalist lifestyle. Not sure how that will work out, but I’m not worried about it.

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example of super cute gift wrap supplies I feel compelled to keep

 

If I stay on my current minimizing trajectory the same way I embraced the gift wrap project, Kevin will be sitting in his lonely Lazyboy chair in a spartan room with nothing on the walls. Fear not, my friends, for I assure you that I do possess the ability to ascertain which items have appropriate sentimental value and which ones were just bad purchase decisions. The other saving grace, of course, is my short attention span. I suspect that I will see a new documentary about the joy of baking on Netflix sometime in March, and will be traipsing off to William Sonoma in search of the best pie pans. (I hope not!) In the meantime, I am very happy with my new path of simpler living and am feeling like I can embrace it as a lifestyle change. Wish me luck!

Don’t Send the Bear

I follow a blog about a guy who knits. I subscribed after reading his book, Mad Man Knitting, a mesmerizing tale of a waiter who worked at one of the most successful restaurants in the country, and then lost everything when it closed. The author was homeless for a while, living in deplorable conditions with little to eat and few support systems. Documenting his experience in vivid detail, he writes about how he slowly started scrounging an existence from- of all things- knitting. He knits the most adorable bears, writes about the textures and colors of the yarns, takes a photo and then sells them. In addition to his passion for knitting bears, writing forms his other creative outlet. His prolific output dwarfs the rest of the blogging world, with weekly and sometimes daily posts. He seems to have a lot to say and a lot of time in which to say it.

Mad Man Knitting Blog Link

One might think that the Mad Man Knitter-aka Gregory Patrick-is a similar tale to that of Porkchop Zimmerman from my last blog. They both suffered and found contentment through their art. They both produce an abundance of work, high quality stuff, well-received and inspiring to many. Both seem to still struggle a bit financially in spite of their modest celebrity status. Both personal journeys are fascinating to me. I have pretty much stopped reading the Knitting blog, however. And the reason, surprisingly, is customer service.

While Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman is at home with his mom sending free Happy stickers to anyone who requests them, Mr. Patrick has a long list of unsatisfied customers who sent in money for his adorable bears, only to receive nothing in return. If you read enough of his blogs, far enough back, you will find where he gets overwhelmed by the angry messages from customers who want their money back. The problem is that he has already spent the money and doesn’t have it to send.

It’s a cruel joke, really, because he constantly posts photos of new and adorable bears which he has just created, encouraging you to buy them because he only has beans and rice to eat. You are in love with the bear and empathetic to the artist’s plight. What you do not realize, however, is that you may or may not actually receive the product. Most people assume that even a backlog of orders would eventually be fulfilled. This is not the case. Some of us have ordered a bear, hoping to own this soft, adorable symbol of resilience through adversity, only to grow weary of waiting for its arrival.

I have to tell you that there seems to be a bit of randomness to order fulfillment. If Mr. Patrick knows you, or you happened to order a bear when he had postage money on hand, you receive a well-crafted and huggable bear. The rest of you, well…not so much. Sorry.

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In his defense, I knew the risk when I ordered. I had read blogs about his angry customers before I even sent in my money. I thought that the other customers were just impatient people, that they didn’t fully understand this struggling artist, and I empathized with Mr. Patrick in his plight to learn to manage a small business after only recently getting off of the streets. I assumed that eventually, a bear would arrive, and it would be an inspiring symbol to me, one I would set out to view daily. I would see it and think about the man who lost everything and learned to rebuild again. It would be a reminder to appreciate the little things, like a simple meal of beans and rice. It would serve as a gesture of solidarity with the blogging world. I was resolute to never contact him with inquiries about when to expect the bear, and prided myself that I would be the patient bear-adopter who waited kindly for my future fuzzy friend.

And then time passed. And then more time passed. So much time passed that I began to view myself as a bit of a sucker, and I decided to write off my purchase as a monetary gift to a stranger (he accepts donations in support of his blog). It wasn’t a lot of money and I didn’t need the bear. The sad thing is that I would have paid twice what I sent to receive it, and had plans to order many more. I eventually realized that I didn’t want the bear. The adorable yarn face would now represent disappointment and broken promises. I hoped that the bear would never arrive. And it never did. It’s been over 2 years since the order, and I’ve long since moved from where I lived when I placed it. He couldn’t send it now if he wanted to.

All of this is OK. I mean no ill will to Knitting Guy, and still admire his crafts. Although I have no interest in reading the blog or receiving the bear, I still think there was a message of tenacity in his story. But my inability to acquire a bear makes me appreciate Leonard Zimmerman even more, the artist who found a way to fund his passion and fulfill his promise to his fans: you have been there for me, and I will be there for you.

I think I’ll order some Happy stickers.

A Happy Choice

 

My stress-filled life had been burgeoning into a borderline melancholy when I agreed to attend the documentary “Happy”at the Imperial Theater with my friend Bethlehem. I was unsure of the details of the story but knew that the film was centered around the artist known for his smiling paintings, Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman.

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Like most Augustans, I had seen the Happy Robot signs plastered all around town, and had worn the stickers myself when they were thrust upon me by the ever-delightful and enthusiastic Tricia Hughes. Also like most Augustans, I was fuzzy about the motivation behind Zimmerman’s colorful and upbeat imagery, but curious to hear more about it, and possibly pick up some pointers.

 

As I am fascinated by stories of personal journeys, I was immediately drawn to the film, which recounts the life of the artist from childhood, through losing his great love, to finding redemption through his craft. I enjoyed watching him at work, fixated on painting while wearing headphones, head bouncing to the music. He would zone in close to the canvas, carefully outlining an image of a smiling bear, then suddenly burst into laughter. I wondered how his mind moved from the music to the paint to the thought which entertained him so much, a little envious of someone so completely in the moment and filled with the capacity for pure joy.

The documentary, created by Michael Patrick McKinley, shows the joyful painter’s lifelong passion for his art, which seems simple in content but is actual replete with symbolism and precise technical skill. As Metro Spirit contributor Molly Swift explains, McKinley has been able to convey that “in the midst of all the noise, the HAPPY campaign stands out both due to its origin and its simplicity. The point is to help people choose happiness. That is all.”

Which brings me back to me, and my current obsession with joy in the midst of stress, simplicity in the midst of chaos. Life has become so complex and overwhelming, that I find myself turning to stories like Zimmerman’s, which demonstrate that elation is a flower on the side of the road, obscured by the weeds and concrete artifacts, waiting for us to just notice it and pluck it for our own. At some point in his arduous journey of loss, Zimmerman realizes that he can either dwell on his pain or discover an outlet for expressing his emotions in a constructive way.

I realize that is naive to think that happiness is as easy as picking the flower out of the weeds; it’s one thing to choose happiness and another altogether to feel true joy in the face of life’s pressures. Viscerally, though, I believe we all make it harder than it has to be. Seeing how other people have overcome these pressures to discover their bliss brings us one step closer. McKinley’s movie inspired me to contemplate the healing powers of the creative process and the helpful power of a bright, simple smile.

Diet Coke Divorce

As Kevin was transitioning out of the hospital after his hip surgery, the doctor and nurses were adamant in their advice about his medicines. “Don’t be a hero,” they warned. “Trust me, you want to stay ahead of the pain. Keep taking your pills.” Apparently, it is easy to keep misery at bay, but very difficult to reign the big raging bull of suffering back into the pen if it gets out of control. Sure enough, Kev stayed on the pills until he was out of the danger zone, and was able to stop the meds without consequence.

I suspect that I may have to do something similar as I enter into my 11th attempt to terminate my 34-year relationship with Diet Coke. For those never hooked on this drug, you need to know that calling it a beverage is truly inappropriate. When I am on good terms with the substance, I call it the “Nectar of the gods”. When we are struggling, it is the “Devil’s nectar”. Either way, I’ve known for years that it is beyond bad for me, and that one day my addiction would have to be faced. Researching this struggle on the internet only makes my impending journey that much more daunting.

Dr. Edward Group explains in his 2015 article Why is Diet Soda Addictive , he labels my nectar a “toxic cocktail of chemicals” that  tricks the reward centers of the brain into thinking it is going to get something awesome, then denies it that pleasure, which compounds the cravings. As if that weren’t cruel enough, diet sodas have been associated with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and brain lesions. It makes you gain weight, causes emotional disorders and puts you at risk for more than 92 side effects that the FDA knows about.

All of these negative consequences are spit in the wind, though, for those of us who ache for the carbonated poison. I read a blog about a woman who carried cans of it in her purse, in the event that it was not available where ever she may be going. I could easily relate to this and can admit to doing the same. As I caved into my yearning during the other times I attempted to quit, I rationalized my actions with thoughts like, “well, it may hurt my health but it makes life so much better!” or “Diet Coke= Happiness” or “I work hard, I deserve this boost to my day.” Really any thought just this side of “life just isn’t worth living without it” has likely contributed to my process of justification.
For those not addicted to it, or who have never been addicted to anything, cannot understand that it is more difficult than just setting down the bottle. Besides the stimulation to the reward center of the brain, there are the crippling side effects of detoxifying the body, including migraines that hurt so much you will want to strap on some lead weights and go out for a swim. I read one blogger’s experience, Elisa Zied, who said she even misses “the companionship with Diet Coke,” admitting that it “sounds silly”, but it became that much a part of her life. She associated the soda with the joy she experienced while drinking it with certain favorite foods or how it helped during stressful moments in her workday.

I guess that about brings us up to speed with my personal plight, one that I calculate has cost me $37, 230 as a conservative estimate over the past few decades. The last significant amount of product I consumed was 24 hours ago. I’ve been nursing this 12-ounce bottle today like it contains arsenic (which it might as well). I feel like someone who has been told they are about to be hit by a bus, but who does not know when it will strike. I am waiting for the pain to creep up on me, stealthy and powerful, conjuring up memories of past arduous attempts to forego the juice. I’d like to tell you that I will report to you what it feels like, as that is my intention. But either I will be able to follow the advice of Kevin’s doctors and “stay ahead of the pain”, or I will be in too much agony to articulate the experience.

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I will circle back in another post to explain why I am doing this, why I am so certain of my victory, and the carrot I receive at the end of the race. In the meantime, please pray for me. I announced my intentions on Facebook and it looks like I have some supporters and encouragers out there. I have a co-worker who is going to quit with me, and she has agreed to be my “battle buddy”. Success for this divorce will take a village, and I fear that Kevin and my co-workers may suffer the most. I forgot to mention that other withdrawal symptoms include “raging temper, anxiety and extreme fatigue.” Let the games begin.

 

 

#Thisis50

I tried to do a selfie to let you see what 50 years old looks like, but… never having mastered the art of the selfie, I am afraid that all attempts turned out horribly, frightening me with some hard truths that I would rather not think about. I hope that in reality I look better than what my iPhone shares with me.

At least I can take some consolation that my coworkers were kind in their assessment of how I look for my age. The comments I heard today include: “You look 30!” “I swear I thought you were in your 20s!” and “There is no way you are 50!” Some conversation seemed slightly less complimentary, such as the look of surprise from my boss Bill, with: “I thought you were 30 when we hired you. Have you worked here that long?” Mr. Hudson’s comment also came across as less than favorable, but I am telling myself he had good intentions behind it:”Sorry this place has put so many miles on you!”

Although I am not sharing here what 50 years old looks like, I can share what it feels like. It feels like a bounty of happiness, surrounded by amazing people who fill my days with humor and kindness. I appreciate all of the riches in my life, including my incredible family, husband, job, coworkers, home, friends, community, cats and car. I still chase after all of the grand goals of life at full speed, while enjoying incredible good health (knock on wood), every day. In short, 50 feels amazing.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I am compelled to tell you that 50 also feels…well, a little sleepy. I am tired more than I want to admit, and I crash pretty hard when I get home each night. In truth, I constantly pine after my next nap in the same way my cat Roland constantly pines after his next can of Fancy Feast. It’s always there, in the back of my mind, calling out to me: “Sleep! You know you want me!”

Despite my fatigue and frightening selfies, I was ok about facing the milestone birthday today. I was hopeful for the normally subdued day, as I prefer as little attention as possible. I turned off the birthday feature on Facebook, and tried to sneak under the radar without a lot of fanfare. Birthdays just are not a big deal to me, and I approached today thinking that this would be another quiet one. Not so much.

What 50 looked like today was a barrage of attention. This morning, I arrived at work at 6am to find a bouquet of balloons tied to my chair, and a collage of paper balloons taped to my window. I nearly teared up reading many of them.

I knew that my sweet assistant Rosanne was behind the festivities; she is truly as thoughtful and creative as they come. In addition to the balloons, cards and messages she corralled from the various 70+ coworkers at the dealership, she also created a special presentation just from her and her daughter Mercedes. The card was a singing one, a purple purse which encourages you to extract pink sunglasses, and when you do, lights flash on the purse and the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” bursts forth loudly. Very loudly, at 6am. Rosanne also made a basket filled with my nectars of life, namely diet coke and wine. It sat near my desk all day, tempting me with its cruel blend of caffeine and intoxication.

It seemed that every co-worker paused to personally wish me well today. All throughout the chaos of work, a steady stream of pleasantries, hugs, songs and compliments were bestowed upon me. Customers noticed the attention and joined in with their wishes, especially when the arrangements began to arrive.

The first to arrive was a fruit bouquet, a gesture from my Guest Services team. Next was a lovely arrangement from a customer, and then beautiful blossoms from my sweet Kevin and finally a creative collection of unique flowers from my sister, brother-in-law and niece.  Suffice it to say, I was touched beyond measure, and filled with the gratitude of one who knows that her blessings exceed her worthiness.

Sometime this year I’ll try to take another selfie to show you what 50 looks like. For now, you will have to take my word for it. I could look better, I could look worse. But I could not possibly be richer in the things that matter most. #Thisis50.